Netflix tried and failed to create fandom with Tudum

When news of the layoffs at Netflix-owned fansite Tudum broke last week, responses tended to come in two parts: First, of course, was that it sucks for the workers affected. But also, What is Tudu??

Launched less than six months ago, Tudum was conceived as a home for additional content related to popular Netflix titles, such as interviews with stars, news about renewals and trailers, as well as bigger, meatier stories that could put shows and movies in context. A former writer who lost his job last week likened Tudum to DVD special features and investments other companies have made in supplementary material: “a collection of criteria for normal people,” as they put it.

“It builds on an already existing fandom culture around Netflix shows and is something that acts as a companion piece,” says the former staffer. “[Tudum was] where Netflix owned its own content.”

But Tudum has quickly become the latest example of Netflix failing to nurture those fandoms. The company has a history of shutting down programs if they don’t quickly meet internal goals, and it appears to have treated Tudum the same way, cutting a large portion of its staff after it didn’t immediately produce a sizeable return on investment. . Interviews with current and former employees suggest that Netflix changed its mind about what it really wanted from the large number of journalists it hired. Staff were met with moving poles and a marketing department that was unresponsive to comments from writers and editors.

Netflix’s goals were simply not clear to everyone involved. In an interview with the edge, a former writer joked that they still don’t know the exact way to pronounce the site’s name.

For one thing, staff were told that Tudum would be the place to release exclusive content before other outlets, says a writer who asked not to be identified because they are still employed by the company. But even that was a problem in Tudum, current and former writers say. Tudum’s staff watched other outlets get interviews with stars that even Tudum couldn’t get or get time with talent they were supposed to have exclusive access to.

“What’s the fucking point of acting like we have exclusive access when we have less access than other places?” says the former staff member.

Another tension that grew over time was what kind of work writers were allowed to produce and what kind of content fans wanted to see. The writers knew the job would not be “journalism with a capital J,” says another former writer who was also fired. Still, they were assured during the interview process that they would be able to write about Netflix titles with a critical eye.

But the writers soon discovered that this was not the case.

Netflix PR reps often sit in on interviews with shows’ stars, and writers are given lists of topics to avoid discussing that were deemed controversial, current and former staff say. According to several people, even the topics that Netflix shows tackle head-on, such as Happiness The arrest of star Jerry Harris on child pornography charges, to which the show devoted an entire episode, was off limits to Tudum. Netflix declined to comment on this policy and did not respond to other questions from the edge about Tudum’s operations.

“If you’re trying to build a site and a brand that has any sort of credibility within this landscape, these are things you need to address. These are things you have to write about,” says the second former writer. Instead, the writer says, the feeling staff got was that Netflix wanted “nice” stories and Tudum to be a “space for joy” – good in theory for PR, but a limiting way to hope that fans talk and interact with your favourite. Titles

Tudum is just one part of a seemingly ever-expanding push by Netflix to create fandoms around its content. The site shares a name with a giant virtual fan event that Netflix held last fall. there is live Bridgerton events took place across the country where fans did their best Regency-era cosplay under twinkling chandeliers, and the footage went viral on TikTok the next day. The company runs a variety of social media handles curated for different content and audience segments, including geekdedicated to science fiction, fantasy and other fans.

“We don’t have this legacy of 40 years of established IP. We are creating these new stories, these new worlds and these new fandoms”, Max Mills, editorial and publishing manager of Netflix, said Protocol in 2020. “We can see it: what is the next generation of geekdom, the next generation of fandom?”

But the company sometimes cut off those fandoms before they could grow. Fan Favorites like the OA either babysitters club, canceled after only a couple of seasons, they have fallen victim to internal metrics that viewers, and even show creators, don’t know about. When the service canceled sense8took a prolonged fan reaction for the service to green light an end.

Building new fandoms can be heavy lifting that requires more than just press releases or even a marketing website complete with culture and entertainment writers. But the premise that Tudum could be the A place to read about your favorite show would require real investment – ​​why limit promotion to a site built from scratch?

Although the writers say that Tudum was not intended to be a direct competitor to independent entertainment publications, the company seemed unaware of what Tudum would need to succeed as a go-to source for the Netflix-obsessed. On several occasions, staff asked Netflix management why Tudum didn’t have his own social media presence to increase readership or even let people know he existed. When Tudum finally got some space on Netflix, it stuck a title card at the end of episodes, far from being a prime property.

“The people who are doing it don’t have a clue how to actually accomplish this goal,” says a former writer. “People can be smart in a lot of different ways, but they’re complete idiots at this.”

When writers and editors raised questions about the fansite’s strategy and goals, higher-ups responded vaguely that they were still trying to figure things out, says the second former writer. Content strategy changed regularly based on what bosses were saying to what audiences were responding to, leaving writers and editors scrambling to provide what they were saying fans wanted.

“They were trying to figure it out for themselves,” the former writer says of the heads of marketing and strategy. “They put the cart before the horse.” The feeling they got, in the absence of clear answers from Netflix, was that SEO marketing content was what was wanted from writers.

That lines up with where the layoffs were concentrated. About 25 people in marketing lost their jobs, including eight people on Tudum’s culture and trends team, as well as at least one person focused on content strategy, according to previous staff. As to why culture and trends were targeted specifically, staff can only guess: the team had lower output than news, for example. Some assume that Netflix didn’t want anything that could be too fiery, even though the deeper set pieces are often the ones that capture the attention and intrigue of a fanbase.

“It makes sense in terms of what [Netflix is] trying to figure out what makes this effort worthwhile?” says a former staff member. “We just aren’t the investment they needed.”

It makes little sense for Netflix to limit coverage of its shows to its internal fan blog – why wouldn’t the company want a feature on The New York Times?It’s also not good that cultural criticism is limited to what a streamer’s marketing department approves of. But whatever leverage was needed to give Tudum access to Netflix’s own stars, it clearly wasn’t achieved, the writers say. Just a few months after the site went live, Bozoma Saint John, the executive who launched Tudum, stepped out the company.

Tudum’s laid-off staff is now struggling for some stability following the sudden destruction of the culture and trends team. Two affected writers said the edge that a group of workers has asked Netflix to increase the two weeks of compensation offered by the company to four months. The above staff are currently in negotiations with Netflix.

Some workers who lost their jobs see the consequences as a result of Netflix’s company-wide panic. The company lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade last quarter and estimates it will lose even more people this quarter.

One of Tudum’s former writers has his own recipe for how Netflix can stop the losses. “Stop canceling shows that people like, stop greenlighting so many ridiculous shows that no one is going to watch, and stop raising the price,” he says. “That’s what makes people unsubscribe. And they’re doing everything else but that.”

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